Use these tricks to make new habits stick
Creating a new habit can be hard. If, like most of us, you’re not blessed with relentless discipline, it’s easy to slip right back into old habits. In fact, only 8 percent of people actually keep their New Year’s resolutions, and even fewer stick with them for the long haul. So what’s the secret and how can you make new habits stick?
It turns out there are a few tricks that are scientifically proven to help maintain a new habit. Here are our favorite hacks to make new habits stick, once and for all.
Take it one step at a time
Dream big, but start small: The hardest part of developing a new habit is starting the behavior. So it makes sense that the best way to start would be to start with something so small, it seems easy. Consider what your bigger vision is, but break off a chunk of it to start with first.
Jot it down: Researchers have found that you become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down. When we set a goal, we are often using only one hemisphere of our brain. However, when we take the time to write it down, we engage our corpus callosum, the area through which the electrical signals between the hemispheres connect. This sends a signal to every cell in our body that we are committed to this goal or habit.
Change one thing at a time: Studies show that we are more likely to stick to a new habit if it’s specific. For instance, rather than saying you need to start exercising more, try to create a habit of walking 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week.
Do a two week practice: Many people fall into old habits quickly because they set out to change too much and then quit when they aren’t successful. Tell yourself that for two weeks, you are going to try out this new habit. Each time you slip up, look at it as a learning opportunity and practice for when you are ready to really start your new regimen.
Keep it up
Practice the 3 Rs: Behavioral psychology researchers have found that when it comes to habits, humans are wired to follow a 3-step pattern: Reminder, Routine, Reward. Let’s say you want to start taking three yoga classes a week. First, your phone may alert you that it’s time to go to class (Reminder). Next, you pack up and go to the class (Routine). After the class, you realize how great you feel and get in touch with the benefits it brought you (Reward).
Enlist a buddy: Research shows that sharing your goals makes you more accountable and likely to succeed. Enlist a buddy who will take part in your new habit with you, or will check in with you periodically to help keep you on track.
Practice habit stacking: Studies have shown that the quickest and easiest way to form a new habit is to “stack” it on top of another habit you’ve already established. For instance, if you want to start a meditation practice, start by meditating for 1 minute after you pour your morning cup of coffee.
Treat yourself: Giving yourself a reward is an important part of forming a new habit. If your brain doesn’t detect a reason to keep up with the new routine, it will be more tempting to quit.
Don’t worry about slips: Remember that each day is a new beginning. When the day seems to much to handle, take it one hour at a time. When an hour seems to much to handle, take it one minute at a time. Remember that slip ups are a learning opportunity.
Stay with it for the long haul
Increase your habit in small ways: Since ideally you started off with a tiny habit, start increasing it in small ways. For instance, if you set a goal to start running, start by running 2 miles a week. Next, increase the mileage to 2.5 miles a week.
Note patterns: After a few weeks of practicing your new habit, begin to note patterns you see that have either contributed to your success or failure. Has being more prepared with snacks helped you eat better? Or has surrounding yourself with supportive people helped you reach your goal? Continue doing the things that are helping and taking a step back from the things (or people) that aren’t.
Tell people: People only know what you tell them. Once you have a few weeks under your belt and have gained more confidence, let your friends and family know about your new habit. Once they know, they will be able to better understand the choices you make and support you along the way.
Plan a big reward: In addition to the small rewards you’ve given yourself along the way, consider setting a long-term reward that will motivate you to make your new habit stick for the long haul. For instance, if you’ve stuck with your new yoga habit for a year, maybe you can go on a yoga retreat to someplace beautiful.
Make changes to your environment: Finally, to make your new habit permanent, consider making some more permanent changes to your environment and lifestyle. Take a step back from toxic friends or move to a place that enables you to keep up with your habit. Remember, this is for you, and you’ve worked hard to get where you are. Making permanent changes that make your habit even easier will help ensure it sticks.
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How do you make new habits stick?
How do you make new habits stick? Share your tips in the comments section below.